I always liked new technologies and how they change our lives for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I love Google (I mean the company). The search engine was so much better than everything I knew before, and they drive many interesting innovations, including in open-source world. And so many good products may get one to a point (like me) that realizes everything around is about Google (except Facebook, obviously ;) ). When I realized that nearly all my data was in the hands of a single huge company (looking at my Google History of past years really creeps me out), I decided it was time to move on from Google (or at least take a break…).
The #1 search engine
I used many services from Google and the most used were: search engine, Gmail, Docs, Drive and Maps. I thought the search engine would be the hardest (or impossible) one to get rid of… until I met DuckDuckGo :)
Really, privacy has become a big concern for me, and DDG is an amazing search engine that, although living on ads too, do not compromise our data as much as Google does. Now I use it for years (around two) and I can only say it is an amazing search engine. Everything I need it’s there. And when it’s not, I try Google and other ones, but it’s usually not there too… the only limitation I see on DDG is about searching recent local news, that Google does much better (because private information seems to help in this sense). Except from that, I really think DDG is a much better search engine.
Cloud Services: Docs and Drive
I also believed it would be impossible to get rid of cloud services such as Google Drive and Google Docs, but unfortunately that was imposed on me when a global incident happened on 31 October, 2017. Like 99% of all academic researchers do, I was using Google Docs to share documents with colleagues, including sensitive research data. We always think “ok, Google has so many customers, it won’t care about what I’m doing”, until my document was suddently blocked in a very close project submission deadline. I was informed I had violated some use terms (what??), and to unblock my research document, some internal guy from Google would review my document and manually unblock it (what????). That was unnaceptable to me, mostly because the data was sensitive and was related to cloud computing research, it was unbelievable to have someone from Google reading my document… but what could I do? We usually have the feeling the “it’s all conspiracy”, and at that moment I was pretty sure Google have actually processed my document and classified it as “interesting for internal review”, so where is Don’t Be Evil now? After a month I discovered that a major problem happened on Google that day, so not only my document was blocked, but thousands more: https://www.techspot.com/news/71669-google-docs-accidentally-blocking-access-documents.html
I got relieved of not being just me, or just my internal research exposed to some random guy, but I realized that couldn’t be a safe path for the future.
My definitive solution only came this year, by fully adopting ownCloud software together with my own smart storage device. Now I have much more space, amazing new tools and full control of my data. The hardware price is equivalent to years of Google storage payment (in a very basic plan), but privacy cannot have a price on it. Even my contacts and calendar is kept on my “own cloud” now ;)
There are commercial cloud devices that do not support ownCloud natively, but if you’re interesting in transforming a Raspberry Pi or Western Digital MyCloud device into ownCloud, I recently wrote a tutorial on it: https://github.com/igormcoelho/wd-ultra-mycloud-owncloud
The most shocking for me was to take a look in email alternatives a few months ago… really, Gmail beats all it’s competidors by much, so I’m quite hopeless to find a decent email with nice interface and full privacy. I found very good alternatives to Google Maps, even with offline capabilities such as OpenStreetMaps. My only concern is on how too many platforms and mobile apps (such as Uber) are built on top of that specific Maps system. So I don’t know, even if I replace my Android with LineageOS or any other alternative, if it will be possible to avoid Google services without removing all my current services. So I guess I’m still stuck at Google for many months or years perhaps to come.
I’m a huge believer of decentralization, and it’s very promising these days with so many nice technologies emerging every single day (including blockchain)… nothing against big companies, I don’t believe they are evil, but it’s already time for users to reclaim the full control of their own data.